Friday, August 17, 2007

Playing Strong with people my own weight.

I went to Oishi's today. I haven't been going in a while, and Sensei Oishi made a comment about my not being here in a long time, but then when I informed him that I was going to Sensei Watanabe's club, he seemed pleasantly surprised. There were a good bunch of people today - entirely brown and black belts, and mostly big guys - people over 200lbs (90+ kgs) that presented good challenges in Randori and ne-waza. I went a couple of Rounds with a Sandan (3rd Degree blackbelt) who I matched up nicely with Sizewise. While I did pretty much all of the falling, I was pleased with some of the attacks of my own that as well as some of the defenses I had against his throws. I think I am finally getting comfortable with an attacking style, now I need to find a competition.

The Jar of Rocks

Recently, I have been using a parable to describe the Judo learning process, and I wanted to share it with you. I first learned about this parable in a non-Judo context, but nonetheless it can be ascribed to Judo, or to virtually anything else in your career, life, relationships, etc.

A couple of years ago I was meeting with a work colleague in her office. I noticed an interesting Jar of rocks on her desk. I asked her what the Jar was for and she explained that the Jar was given to her as part of an exercise at a management conference. Essentially, the concept is like this:

You need to fill the jar with rocks. First you start with big rocks, and cram as many of them into the Jar as possible. When you are done with those, you can seemingly think that the jar is full, but it isn't. While you might have all of the big rocks in the Jar, there are still plenty of gaps between the rocks that need to be filled. So you start with smaller pebbles, until you don't have any more room for pebbles. But this too isn't complete, because there are still gaps left - so you start to use sand....

I think that this parable has a lot of applicability in Judo. A friend of mine, a recently minted Shodan, indicated recently that you can 'know' all of the throws in the gokyo, but still have much room for improvement - how telling is this of Judo?!?

Everyone learned O-Soto-Gari as one of their first throws, yet here I am 6.5 years after starting Judo and still am far from perfection. I still go over it again and again in Uchikomi, and while I progress more and more each class, I still have plenty more work to do. Just like the glass of rocks, I have put the big rocks in the jar already - i.e. I know the gross movements - and now I am trying to get the smaller details and nuances in place to take my Judo to the next level.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sparking some thoughts about Rank

Last night, I was practicing Nage-No-Kata with a fellow brown belt under the watchful eye of one of our Senior black belts who also does a lot of refereeing and at one point was a Kata Examiner.  It's really good to have him reviewing my kata as I learn it, because he provides me with advice from the big picture (i.e. how to transit from one throw to the next) all the way down to the smallest details (your knee needs to be at a 45 degree angle when you finish Sumi Otoshi). At the end of Kata practice, he mentioned that I was progressing nicely. I mentioned that I thought it would take me a year before I could perform Nage-no-Kata. Then he said something to me: "I think Sensei wants you to do it sooner - you are an Ikkyu, aren't you?". "Actually, " I replied, " I am just a Sankyu." I realize that I haven't had a change in Rank since returning to Judo almost 3 years ago.

Originally, I thought I would go to promotional shiai, but unfortunately, in our area, those have moved to Saturdays from Sundays, and I can't attend any of them because my religion precludes me from both traveling and competing on Saturday. Truth be told, I haven't been to a competition in 18 months, and I want to go back to one. I have been looking for some local tourneys, but unfortunately aside from the east coast tourney - another Saturday tourney, there seems to be very little on the Radar.

I do want to progress rank-wise, but somehow that has been the farthest thing from my mind - especially in the last 18 months since my last competition - that was, of course, until it was brought up the other night.

Over the last 7 months or so, I have progressed significantly in both my competition capability and technique, and my Sensei has faith in my abilties - which goes a long way. I think I need a Shiai or two under my belt before I progress, so that at least my progress and how I apply my Judo will be more evident.

The trick is finding the right shiai to go to.

One day, I will get my Shodan, but with Judo, as with many other things in life, there are many great ironies - the one I feel today is that the more I progress, the more I feel I need to go.

Monday, August 13, 2007

YouTube and Judo

Now that I am learning Nage-No-Kata, I am finding instructional Judo Video more useful than ever. I just did a search for Nage-No-Kata on YouTube and came up with a dozen or so results.

Videos from the US, Japan, Europe and more. It's amazing how the Internet can bring global resources to the edge of my desk - even for learning Judo! The video below is an excerpt of the Kodokan's official Nage no kata video.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Switching Sides

About 2 years ago, after competing (and losing all 3 of my matches) in a tournament, I asked my Sensei for some feedback. His advice was super helpful, but the one thing that stood out was that he noticed, that as dominant lefty, somewhere in middle of one of my matches I switched to playing right-handed. He told me that I should have stayed lefty and played to my strengths. I explained to him that the reason why I didn't play left-handed was because my opponent was holding down his right lapel to prevent me from getting a grip (My sensei pointed out that this is illegal according to tournament rules, and he should have received a Shido penalty, but he did it discretely so that the refs didn't notice). Nonetheless, I continued to practice the left-sided technique even harder, to the point where I almost exclusively fight left-handed at tournaments and Randori.

There is a lot of benefit to being a lefty in Judo. Opposing grips make it easier for me to get in closer to my opponents (and vice versa as well). In addition, many Judoka do not practice throws from both sides, and even when they do, they don't practice their throws against an opposing grip! In Uchikomi, for example, when I switch sides to practice the opposite side techniques, my uke usually switches sides too - unless I tell him not to.

This puts me at a psychological advantage - at least with people of equal experience and skill. I often find people are more reluctant to let me take my grip than to allow my grip and test the waters so to speak.

Needless to say, after some time, people catch on. I noticed on many an occasion in Randori that as my opponents were trying to thwart my left-handed gripping, they would open themselves up to right-handed techniques - but, being out of practice, its hard to capitalize.

That coupled with the fact that the makeup of our dojo for the summer is heavy on people smaller, lighter, and less-experienced than myself, (Please, I am not trying to be arrogant. I am a 5'10.5", 215 lb, Brown-belt, I have gone up against green and yellow belts who are much shorter and weigh at least 50 lbs less) I have started to play right-handed against them. I think that this works out well for both of us because, as beginners, they can simply go out and practice their right-hand techniques, and not be thrown off by my grip. It also takes away some of my experience advantages, because I haven't played righty in a while. I think that this is a great example of mutual benefit and welfare.


Hopefully after a few more weeks, I will feel confident to switch sides against the big folks, and the brown and black belt squad.